The Marital Glass Ceiling Shouldn't Be The Hardest To Break

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Credit: Pinterest

An excerpt from When She Makes More: The Truth About Navigating Love And Life For A New Generation Of Women, out today in paperback.

In a hundred years or so, sociologists, demographers, and anthropologists will likely look back at our generation of women and mark the beginning of the twenty-first century as the time when we flipped the "sex pool"—the place where we find mates and settle into family units. We're using our brains to land a bright career while keeping our fingers crossed that we find love. But that love needn't come with an enviable paycheck and a pension plan. It doesn't even need to come with a graduate degree.

Although the phenomenon of female breadwinners is so new that "the emotional landscapes of such families are somewhat of a mystery," writes Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, it's not a mystery for those of us already living and working in the trenches of this landscape. And I don't buy into the idea that this new economic order is mowing over men or somehow depriving them of their masculinity. Much to the contrary, it's generating fresh opportunities for both sexes to benefit from as long as they learn to appreciate and embrace all of its myriad intricacies and hidden treasures. From a general socioecononic standpoint, men are still expected to bring home the bacon, and women still feel obligated to fry it up in the pan (even after working a full day). Men are celebrated for being good fathers, whereas being a great mother is simply assumed of us. Perhaps some of these standards have evolved a little—it's common for women to work and have kids—but not in the revolutionary, paradigm-shifting way we need to understand in order to create a healthy, successful, modern relationship.

I met my husband in a business class while studying finance at Penn State. But then we parted ways for a while, as I ventured off to earn a journalism degree from Columbia University. Several years after that, we reconnected, and the rest is history. By then I had established myself as a financial expert in the media and was beginning to enjoy the fruits of my labor. But despite my rising success, I increasingly sensed the challenge of handling a relationship in which I made more. And I also realized that a lot of my friends, colleagues, and peers were in the same position. They, too, had achieved all the goals that their parents expected of them, only to be in for a rude awakening once they became the head of the household.

As women who make more, we don't need articles to tell us how the changing economic and social tides are affecting us, and society overall, because it already influences our everyday lives. We feel the pressure when we talk about our finances with our husbands or boyfriends. We know that when our mother raises her eyebrow at dinner, it's because we picked up the check instead of our significant other. We experience it when someone has the nerve to prod us about when we're getting pregnant, ask about plans on staying home or continuing to work, or judge us for the choices we've made about parenting our children. We see how gender roles affect which chores get done and which don't (to wit: working wives, including the breadwinners, still, unfortunately, perform more housework and child care then their men).

Put simply, we know that when she makes more, it permeates every facet of a relationship because when we talk about money, we're talking about our entire lives. And even though men have had to endure "breadwinning stress" for generations, it's just not the same when it comes to us women. The stress we feel as primary income generators is categorically different. This is why we need our own unique playbook.

As women who were raised to be simultaneously accomplished, independent, sexy, and smart, we've always been ahead of the curve. Our adult relationships and marriages are no different. Building off the work of our mothers and grandmothers, this generation of women has to bust out of the roles society has created for us and forge our own paths. "The rise of women" documented in the media is just the beginning. We've all got a lot to lose if we don't heed this message, and a lot to gain—financially and emotionally—if we do. We will be the ones who set the tone for future generations and who may, in fact, have more say in the fate of future economies than we ever imagined.

At the end of 2012, stunning results emerged from a study by a team of researchers from the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore, showing that women with the capacity to earn more than their husbands are more likely to quit their job entirely than women who don't have that capacity. And if they do work, many downplay their potential and avoid taking the lead. "That's bad news for the economy," observes a blogger summarizing the research at The Economist's website. The writer concludes that the implications of the researchers' findings are clear: "they point towards a tricky future for the gender pay gay and for an economy that can hardly afford to waste female potential." 

I couldn't agree more. but I refuse to accept that the marital glass ceiling might prove the hardest to break. Indeed, the dynamics of maintaining a relationship in which the female makes more can be punishing. Marriage difficulties jump and divorce rates rise; but that doesn't mean the struggle is unwinnable. This scenario can be successfully mastered—and it can foster the happiest, most rewarding partnerships.

And that, my friends, is what the world needs.

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